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In-Visible Palimpsest

Memory, Space and Modernity in Berlin and Shanghai


Lu Pan

In the early 1990s, Berlin and Shanghai witnessed the dramatic social changes in both national and global contexts. While in 1991 Berlin became the new capital of the reunified Germany, from 1992 Shanghai began to once again play its role as the most powerful engine of economic development in the post-1989 China. This critical moment of history has fundamentally transformed the later development of both cities, above all in terms of urban spatial order. The construction mania in Shanghai and Berlin shares the
similar aspiration of «re-modernizing» themselves. In this sense, the current experience of Shanghai and Berlin informs many of the features of urban modernity in the post-Cold-War era. The book unfolds the complexity of the urban space per se as highly revealing cultural texts. Also this project doesn’t examine the spatial changes in chronological terms, but rather takes the present moment as the temporal standing point of this research. By comparing the memory discourse related to these spatial changes, the book poses the question of how modernity is understood in the matrix of local, national and global power struggles.
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Modern City: A Spatial Perspective

This book provides a comparison of the memory discourses related to contemporary spatial changes between Berlin and Shanghai. It investigates how the various actors of history view the idea of modernity in both specific and broad cultural contexts. The argument on the representation of modernity in urban spaces in the two metropolises embodies the increasingly complex matrix of local, national, and global power struggles today. The main objective of this book is to provide a new paradigm for understanding the contemporary city culture, questioning the facile folding of intriguing cultural manifestations into easy relativist dichotomies based on nation-state or other essentializing grand narratives. Juxtaposing two geographically and historically discrete yet interrelated cities of Berlin and Shanghai, this book problematizes such troubling dichotomies and grand narratives.

This work does not deny what we refer to today as urban studies that are predominantly derived from the western or European traditions, in particular the Enlightenment and its consequent aestheticization of city form. To consolidate the absolute power of rationality, urban spaces were constructed in Europe during the 19th century as embodiments of order and discipline. Urban spaces were the locus where disciplined and educated individuals could relate their identity to the utopian vision of a good public life. According to Michel Foucault, the 19th-century European city planning aimed at demonstrating the art of governance. In this manner, “To ensure acts of self-governance, citizens were presented with visual models to internalize, remember, and...

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